The Candidates for the Spring election edition assembled to discuss their platforms and respond to questions at the Candidates’ Forum held on 3rd May, 2022. The positions up for grabs are a) GISA President; b) VP for Master’s Students; c) VP for PhD Students; d) Events Coordinator; e) GISA Treasurer; and f) President of the Professional Development Committee (PDC). There were no candidates at the time of the Candidates’ Forum, running for the position of VP for PhD Students. Additionally, three positions (PDC President, Events Coordinator and GISA Treasurer) had only a single person standing for the position, which meant that they would ipso facto be elected into the position.
The Forum began with Aishwarya Tendolkar, the current President, explaining the rules of the Forum. Each candidate was given five minutes to present their platform, followed by questions from the audience, and closing statements from the candidates. The Q&A session was quite lively, featuring several questions from incumbent GISA Board Members and the larger audience. For the purpose of brevity, we have chosen some specific questions and the responses to the same.
Kevin F Jura:
Kevin Jura began by emphasising the need for student participation and how important it is for GISA, and invited students to participate in the General Assembly scheduled for Thursday, the 4th of May, 2022. His platform was to ensure there was continuity in the dialogue between GISA and the Direction, and to regain GISA’s trust within the student body. He also emphasised on bilingualism in the Institute and the ongoing efforts with the Direction to get office space for GISA where students can come and express their problems, as well as more common spaces for students at IHEID. He said that the design for the common students’ space will be finalised in summer and will be followed through. He also stated that he would ensure transparency in dialogue between GISA and the Direction.
Angie Bittar began by explaining how she cares for the community, this being the reason why she ran earlier for the position of Welfare Committee President. She spoke about how she, after speaking to students, understood the students’ need to have a powerful voice that represents them. She also discussed how there had been a complete culture shift over the past two years, and how students are the first to advocate for each other, and the need to carry this forward during her tenure, should she be elected. She also spoke of how the formal town halls and general assemblies were not the most conducive for some of the real and personal issues that students face at IHEID every day. She advocated for regular group meetings to be held which would be relayed to the respective forums for resolution. Along these lines, she also suggested that not everything could be handled in public in town halls, and that the GISA Board should also reflect this. She also promised transparency in communication in terms of what is being done to support students financially, mentally and more, as well as to promote diversity at the Institute, which is one of its most promising features.
Questions were asked to the candidates about how they plan to build trust and bonds within the GISA Board, as well as with the student body. Questions were also asked about how they would deal with the negativity and scrutiny that comes with being in the GISA Board. Kevin responded by talking about how this would be a fresh start, given that the previous conflicts would no longer exist. He also mentioned that they would try to adopt different methods to communicate, and go to a neutral body for conflict resolution. Angie spoke about the collaborative style that she would adopt as the GISA President, where her approach would be to treat the Board as people first, and colleagues second. In terms of dealing with criticism, Angie spoke of criticism being positive and negative, but both needing the space to be heard and responded to with transparency. Kevin also spoke about being used to criticism in the past through his career, and how he does not believe in micromanaging within the team. He also expressed his willingness to hear suggestions and ideas from students, and ensure that every student is not just listened to, but also heard.
VP for Master Students
Sanika began by introducing herself as an MIA Student having done her bachelors’ studies in International Relations and Environment. She has 2 years of experience in advocacy and policy development. Her platform revolved around the need for representation of student interests in decision making, the creation of equality of opportunity and resources, and the need for a sense of belonging at the Institute. She also discussed the creation of informal student thesis support for first year students to better understand the process of writing a thesis, as well as a directory for students to know the rules of the country they are moving into, which would include lists of medical and legal support avenues for students. She also committed to promoting the hybrid teaching format, and bridging the gap between MADIS and MINT students, as well as having skill workshops for MADIS students. She also promoted monthly interactions between class representatives and professors to discuss student concerns. She also promised to work to build a culture of giving feedback to students, and provide grading criteria in advance. Finally, she also committed to continuing the projects that Lorena (the incumbent VP for Masters’ Students) had started, including the work to build transparency in the Institute’s affairs.
Logan spoke of his experience as QISA’s social events chair. He advocated for increasing transparency between administration, GISA and student body. On the topic of transparency, he advocated for clear timelines from the administration, and the absence of last minute emails, in order to give more time for people to respond. He also advocated for giving clear reasoning and detailed explanations on why decisions that are made that would affect students, and the setting up of forums and questionnaires to assess student opinion before an activity is implemented. He spoke of the tendency for MINT students to drown out the voices of disciplinary and PhD students, and committed to holding office hours of his own to hear out student concerns. He also wanted to work to increase opportunities to highlight students’ academic achievements, above and beyond the existing Master’s Forum. He also advocated for an increase in library hours especially during exam season, and the extension of the hybrid format, and access to recorded sessions if students have expressed their consent to this.
Questions for candidates included their response to the articles titled ‘The Collective Experience of Black Students at IHEID’ and how they planned to address concerns of black students at the Institute. GISA Board members who had experienced racism also asked how they would work to address the concerns of students of color. In this context, Logan acknowledged his position and privilege, and expressed his willingness to listen, and understand to be able to help.In the context of responding to the article, Sanika confessed to have not read the piece, but from her experience explained an instance where she was invited by a student from Kenya to an event, that the student had told her would be largely attended by people from her country. Sanika wondered why experiences as diverse as these were not being shared. Sanika spoke of working towards ensuring that students share their diversity, culture and festivals with the Institute’s community. A question was raised about the potential conflict of interest if Logan assumes the position as VP for Master’s while also simultaneously holding a leadership position within QISA: However, students were quick to clarify that according to the by-laws, conflicts of interest only arise if the elected representative within the GISA Board also holds a position within the Specialised Committees. Logan also reiterated his commitment to be unbiased in the treatment of his responsibility, and ensure that he gives equally to both QISA and GISA. On a question to Sanika about details on the medical and legal support document that she envisaged, she spoke about how she planned to discuss with class representatives to build a database of subsidised medical and legal support available to students. On a question about the loss of budget for Initiatives and GISA were GISA to join the Swiss Student Union, both candidates stated that they would find a way to still work with what they had.
Samantha Khoo Su-Yen
Samantha began by introducing herself as Malaysian having lived in the UK for the past four years. She said she was a fair person, and that she would ensure that there was no favouritism if she was elected to the post. Her platform revolved around the issue of harassment at parties, both during and in the aftermath of parties, and how she hoped to work with the neutral third party to work against harassment. She expressed the strong need to elevate the voices of regional initiatives, and added that discrimination cannot be elimiated, if we could not hear about their experiences. She also spoke about the need to work against the rising cost of using the Institute’s spaces, including having to pay for use of the Picciotto Common Room, when this was earlier not the case, as well as the rising cost of cleaning and security. She also spoke about discrimination from the housing administration on the basis of initiatives, and the need for initiatives to receive faster responses from the Events Coordinator, as well as the need to plan events so that initiatives do not have overlapping events. Finally she brought up how Antenne-H has done little about student-student discrimination, and that efforts would have to be undertaken to combat this.
On the question about cases of racism at the Institute, and how she would address this, Samantha said that she would work to create safe spaces, as well as the space to be able to call individuals out on instances of racism. To a question about her dual role as President of QISA and Events Lead, she promised to deliver equally to both GISA and QISA. On a question about the responsibility of handling academic responsibilities as well as that of Events Head, Samantha explained how she is currently juggling a job, an internship, capstone and academics, while still finding time to party. She also spoke about having a strong support system as well as people who would hold them accountable.
Nishtha introduced herself as a 1st year MDEV student from India, specialising in Sustainability, Trade and Finance. She has an undergraduate degree in Economics, and has worked as financial and investment analyst. She spoke about how working as treasurer for the Outdoors Initiative has also equipped her with the experience to work as GISA Treasurer. Her platforms revolved around a) Ensuring timely financial review and approval for all GISA expenditures and reimbursements; b) Maintaining detailed accounts and records of all GISA transactions.
A question was raised about whether student initiatives should have separate credit cards for their expenses, and whether a transition to a private bank account for GISA would be useful. Nishtha confessed to not knowing about the transition to a private bank account, though she did think separate credit cards for Initiatives might make things difficult in terms of oversight and tracking expenses by Initiatives. On a question about budget cuts if GISA were to join the Swiss Student Union, Nishtha said that she knew she would not be able to make everyone happy, but that they would simply have to find a way to manage it, and have Initiatives working in a more collaborative manner with each other in order to manage their finances better.
President of the Professional Development Committee
Tanvee Kanaujia began by introducing herself, as a first year MDEV student with a specialisation in environment, trade and finance. She had worked as a lawyer, and had been part of student initiatives during her undergraduate studies. As a student at the Institute, she spoke about how she had relentlessly contributed her efforts to the PDC and the Environment Committee, especially in the context of the Sustainability Week, and the Sustainability week Careers Fair. PDC is a specialised committee supposed to cater to the student community at large, both disciplinary, and interdisciplinary students, and PDC was designed to cater to everybody. She said that professional journey is very individualistic and as the President of PDC, she would strive to meet the needs of the students. She also said that she would create a virtual suggestion box and a PDC Newsletter which the students can subscribe to know more about career opportunities and tips relevant to their professional development.
On a question about how she would handle the criticism that comes with being a GISA representative, Tanvee made the distinction between criticism and bad behaviour. She said that while she would learn from criticism, she would not stand for bad behavior, and that she would promote a culture where professional behaviour is respected. On a question about how she planned to extend the catalog of PDC activities, she committed to continuing regular events such as the photoshoots, while also adding new events like ‘Tea with PDC’ where they invite a high level professional or spokesperson to have a chat with students over tea. She expressed her intention to improve on the publicity front, and ensure that students have events on the basis of what they express a need for. She also hoped to work with the Welfare Committee towards allaying the stress of the students.